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12/15/89 William Baudin, v. the City of Crystal Lake

December 15, 1989

WILLIAM BAUDIN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT

v.

THE CITY OF CRYSTAL LAKE, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, SECOND DISTRICT

548 N.E.2d 1110, 192 Ill. App. 3d 530, 139 Ill. Dec. 554 1989.IL.1951

Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County; the Hon. Roland A. Herrmann, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE DUNN delivered the opinion of the court. UNVERZAGT, P.J., concurs. JUSTICE McLAREN, Concurring.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE DUNN

On June 20, 1988, plaintiff, William Baudin, filed an information request with defendant, City of Crystal Lake (City), regarding the policies and procedures of the Crystal Lake police department in the handling of information and the follow-up of a hit-and-run accident. Defendant denied plaintiff's request, claiming that the information was exempt from disclosure under Illinois law. After plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed to the City, he then sought disclosure pursuant to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (Information Act or Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 201 et seq.) by filing a complaint for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief on July 21, 1988. Plaintiff specifically sought a de novo review and an in camera inspection of the disputed material to determine what must be disclosed to him under the Act. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 211(e).

On February 8, 1989, the trial court, after hearing the arguments of counsel, denied plaintiff's request for an in camera inspection and granted defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff, an attorney acting pro se, appeals, contending that it was error for the trial court to refuse to inspect the materials in camera and to grant summary judgment to defendant because the trial court could not have made an independent, de novo determination of discloseable matter based only on the conclusory affidavits of defendant. We agree that the affidavits are merely conclusory and that the trial court had an inadequate factual basis for granting summary judgment for defendant. We reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand the cause with instructions.

Plaintiff originally sought information concerning the policies and procedures of the police department with respect to: (a) handling and receiving information from telephone callers regarding automobile accidents (hit-and-run); (b) receiving information in person concerning an accident; (c) follow-up on information received concerning automobile accidents; and (d) investigation guidelines with respect to automobile accidents, including hit-and-run accidents. Plaintiff also sought excerpts of radio tapes of the City's police department for June 17, 1988, for the period between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and for June 18, 1988, from 9:15 a.m. to 9:45 a.m.

In response to plaintiff's request, defendant, through its freedom of information officer, Martin K. Vanags, sent a letter to plaintiff on June 23, 1988, denying plaintiff's request and claiming that items (a) through (d) were exempt from disclosure under section 7(w) of the Information Act, which exempts information "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of a public body." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 207(w).) Vanags' letter also stated that the radio tapes were exempt from disclosure under section 7(e) of the Act, which exempts records of "State and local law enforcement agencies and correctional agencies that are related to the detection and investigation of crime." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 207(e).) Plaintiff appealed the decision to the city manager, Joseph Misurelli, as head of the public body. Misurelli affirmed the decision to deny disclosure, stating the same reasons for the denial.

Plaintiff sought review in the circuit court. On July 28, 1988, the circuit court entered an agreed order which denied plaintiff's request for injunctive relief concerning preservation of the tape excerpts, based on the representation and assurance by the City that the tape excerpts and the policies and procedures would be preserved during the pendency of the court proceedings and that they were to be tendered to the court for an in camera inspection as the court or plaintiff requested and as "otherwise provided by law."

On August 18, 1988, the City filed its answer and sought dismissal of plaintiff's action. On August 30, 1988, Baudin filed a motion to compel the City to produce the disputed materials for purposes of an in camera inspection by the trial court.

On September 12, 1988, the City filed a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff filed his motion to strike the City's motion for summary judgment as well as the supporting affidavits which plaintiff claimed were conclusory; in the alternative, plaintiff moved to deny the defendant's motion for summary judgment.

The hearing to address these motions was periodically continued, and, on January 13, 1989, an order was entered setting the cause for further arguments on plaintiff's motion to compel, defendant's motion for summary judgment, and plaintiff's motion to strike defendant's affidavits and motion for summary judgment. Ultimately, the circuit court denied plaintiff's request for an in camera inspection and granted defendant's motion for summary judgment.

The central issue to be determined is whether the procedures utilized by the circuit court were sufficient to provide plaintiff an adequate de novo determination of whether the requested information was discloseable under the Act; as a corollary, it must be determined whether the City met its burden of showing that the materials requested were exempted under the Act.

The purpose of the Information Act is to open governmental records to the light of public scrutiny. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 201.) In order to foster governmental accountability and an informed citizenry, the public policy of this State encourages a free flow and disclosure of information between the government and the people; the Information Act is to be liberally construed to achieve this goal, and there is a presumption that public records are open and accessible, subject only to exemptions that are to be read narrowly. Bowie v. Evanston Community Consolidated School District No. 65 (1989), 128 Ill. 2d 373, 378, 538 N.E.2d 557.

The restraints on access to information are to be regarded as limited exceptions to the general rule that the people have a right to know the decisions, policies, procedures, rules, standards, and other aspects of governmental activity that affect the conduct of government and the lives of people. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 201.) If any public record is exempt from disclosure under section 7 of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 207) and it contains material which is not exempt, the public body shall delete the ...


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